Automotive > Autonomous Vehicles Blog

Dubai Renders U.S. DOT Sec'y Chao Dubious

by Roger Lanctot | 2月 04, 2020

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Secretary Elaine Chao sought to make a splash at CES2020 in Las Vegas by announcing her Automated Vehicles 4.0 plan under the heading: “Ensuring American Leadership in Automated Vehicle Technologies.” The plan was a ploy – an effort to make it seem like the Federal government was doing something about connected and automated vehicles when it really was not.

Secretary Chao's CES2020 Keynote:

USDOT AV 4.0 Plan:

The plan was revealed for its plan-less character when it was matched just last week by the announcement from Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) regarding its plans to introduce legislation to streamline the trial runs of autonomous vehicles in Dubai. Ahmed Hashim Bahrozyan, CEO of Public Transport Agency and chairperson of the Smart and Sustainable Transport Committee of RTA was quoted by Arabian Business: “Rules enacted aim to achieve the strategic targets of Dubai Smart Mobility Strategy calling for transforming 25% of mobility trips in Dubai into self-driving transport means by 2030.”

He added, in the Arabian Business report: "The underlying objective of the strategy is to reduce the cost of transport, carbon emissions, and accidents besides saving hundreds of million of hours wasted in driving conventional vehicles." But that laudable, if ambiguous ambition, was defined by the objective of “transforming 25% of mobility trips in Dubai into self-driving transport means by 2030.” A very specific and measurable target.

In contrast, U.S. Secretary Chao described 10 “principles” for AV 4.0 which amounted to meaningless platitudes regarding safety, cybersecurity, standards, privacy, and the coordination of policy at the Federal level. The plan itself was more of a report – nearly 60 pages worth – summarizing the relevant activities of all departments of the government related to connected and automated transportation.

Summarizing these activities was no small project as the report reveals relevant transportation activities occurring in departments as diverse as:

Department of Justice

Department of Transportation

Department of Health and Human Services

National Council on Disability

U.S. Access Board

Department of Agriculture

Federal Communications Commission

Department of Defense

Department of Energy

Department of Homeland Security

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

National Science Foundation

U.S. Postal Service

National Institute of Standards and Technology

National Security Council

And core target initiatives including:

Advanced manufacturing

Artificial intelligence and machine learning

Connected vehicles and spectrum

STEM education

STEM workforce

Supply chain integration

Quantum information science

The document is monumental and comprehensive. It details multiple grant programs targeted at a range of applications from off-road autonomous vehicle operation for the military to the impact of autonomous vehicles on law enforcement. The “plan” also mentions government coordination with the private sector.

There are two important things missing from Secretary Chao’s AV 4.0:

Establishing a specific goal. - We won’t know where we are going or how we are doing if we don’t know what we are trying to do in the first place. Chao talks vaguely about using this technology to improve efficiencies, reduce emissions, and eliminate fatalities and injuries – but the entire industry could use some direction as to "how." Improving efficiency and reducing emissions and fatalities is the "why," not the how.

Establish an Autonomous Vehicle Czar. – The AV 4.0 “Plan” document does indeed bring together in a single place all of the government’s more or less uncoordinated activities spanning everything from spectrum allocations to law enforcement and national security. What is missing is a coordinating individual or organization to define a national vision for development of AV technology.

Secretary Chao shared the stage at CES2020 with Michael Kratsios, chief technology officer of the United States, and he carried on the presentation in a one-on-one interview with Tiffany Moore, senior vice president of political and industry affairs for the Consumer Technology Association. Kratsios appears to have some expertise in artificial intelligence and its broader impact across a wide range of economic sectors – but what is missing is some critical familiarity with the transportation industry generally and vehicle automation in particular.

The fatuous foundation of the document was made clear before Secretary Chao said a single word given the fact that she initiated a dispute between the Department of Transportation and the Federal Communication Commission over the allocation of spectrum for inter-vehicle communications. Secretary Chao is already in opposition to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s Notice of Public Rule-Making for the allocation of Wi-Fi spectrum for C-V2X cellular technology - critical to enabling and accelerating autonomous vehicle development.

Secretary Chao's letter to FCC:

It’s pretty clear that the Federal government can’t coordinate with itself, let alone coordinate efforts with the private sector. In this environment one ought not to expect any movement on legislation either supporting or guiding autonomous vehicle development in the U.S.

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The good news is that U.S. states are not waiting for the Federal government. The rush to support and enable autonomous vehicle testing is gathering momentum across the U.S. state by state more or less rendering the Federal government’s role as virtually moot. To be sure there are funds flowing to individual projects – many of which are essential and enlightening – but none of which are part of a broader coordinated vision or agenda for autonomous vehicle leadership.


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